Reflecting on Acts for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 1:1-11

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Luke’s description of Jesus’ ascension looks backward to its Old Testament foreshadowings and forward to Jesus’ prophesied return at the end of time.

….The scriptural theme of the passing on of Spirit-filled prophetic vocations—from Moses to Joshua, from Elijah to Elisha, and now from Jesus to his apostles—shows that succession of authority has always been part of God’s saving plan.

As Moses ascended Mount Sinai in a cloud (Exod 19:16–20; 24:15–18) to receive the gift of the law and then give it to the people, so Jesus is now lifted up to heaven on a cloud to receive the gift of the Spirit and give it to his Church (see Acts 2:33). Often in Scripture a cloud represents God’s presence (see Exod 13:21; 16:10). The angelic figures’ appearing as two men dressed in white garments recall Moses and Elijah, who appeared with Jesus in the cloud at the transfiguration (Luke 9:29–35).

As the disciples are looking intently at the sky as he was going, the two men chide them, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” They remind the disciples that Jesus had prophesied his parousia, his return in glory on a cloud at the end of the world (Luke 21:27–28): “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven,” that is, on a cloud.

Jesus’ ascending in a cloud alludes to Daniel’s vision of “One like a son of man” coming on the clouds of heaven to receive everlasting dominion from God (Dan 7:13–14). Jesus had indicated that he himself is the Son of Man foreseen by Daniel who will come with power and glory (Luke 21:27).

Jesus’ ascension does not imply his absence from the Church. Rather, as Acts will show, he will be present and active in a new way through the Holy Spirit (see John 14:18). As his disciples speak and act “in his name,” Jesus himself will be at work through them (see Acts 3:5–16).

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.